Now that their losing streak is over, the New Jersey Devils have their sights set on the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Devils can move into first place in the conference on Friday when they host the stumbling Tampa Bay Lightning.
|The Devils can surge into first place in the Eastern Conference with a win tonight. New Jersey will host the lowly Lightning in Newark. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
New Jersey (38-23-6) beat Toronto 4-1 on Tuesday, ending a three-game skid. David Clarkson and Zach Parise scored less than two minutes apart midway through the third period for the Devils, who were 0-2-1 in their previous three contests.
New Jersey's offense finally came alive, matching its goal total from its previous four games. The Devils are 31-2-2 when scoring at least three goals.
"(Our offense) has been fighting it a little bit, got shut out and didn't put too many goals in the net lately," Parise said. "It's been a big problem, so it was nice to get a little breathing room at the end of the game."
The Devils are one point behind Atlantic Division leader Pittsburgh for the best record in the East. The Penguins are off Friday after losing 5-2 to Florida on Thursday.
"We found a way to score, and there were some nice plays on the goals, especially the third and fourth," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "We played pretty well, outside of a few minutes there in the second period and, obviously, Marty made some big saves at big times, which you need in this league."
New Jersey's stalwart goalie, Martin Brodeur, also came through on Tuesday, making a season-high 41 saves. Brodeur, whose 36 wins rank second in the NHL to San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov (37), yielded eight goals during the losing streak.
The Devils have played their last two games on the road and head out on a four-game trip following Friday's contest. They lost 4-0 to Washington in their last home game last Friday, but were 7-1-1 in their previous nine at the Prudential Center.
New Jersey is 3-5-2 in its last 10 home games against the Lightning (26-34-7), but won 6-1 on Oct. 31 in the last meeting in New Jersey. The Devils have won the last two overall matchups by a combined 9-3 score.
The Lightning lost for the eighth time in nine games on Thursday, falling 3-2 at Philadelphia. Tampa Bay, which owns the worst record in the East, has scored just three goals during a three-game losing streak.
Tampa Bay yielded the game-winning goal with 1:54 left in the third period Thursday.
"It's a tough goal, a back breaker with two minutes left," goalie Mike Smith said. "It went through a lot of bodies and I didn't really get a good read off of it from the stick. It's a tough pill to swallow."
Jussi Jokinen and Michel Ouellet scored for the Lightning, who managed only two shots in the final period.
"It's very frustrating not bearing down in the third period," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "We had a lot of chances and we just couldn't capitalize. Instead, we gave up a late goal again."